Monday, May 5, 2008

Internally displaced leery of returning home

The UN's development news agency, IRIN, once again carries news that mainstream journalists should be reporting:

IDPs reluctant to return home

KABUL, April 28 (IRIN) - Almost a month after the Afghan government launched a fresh effort to encourage the return of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the three largest IDP camps to their home provinces (mostly in the north), only about 130 families have opted to return, the Ministry of Refugees and Returnees Affairs (MoRRA) said.

At least 150,000 IDPs are currently living in Zhari, Mukhtar and Maslakh camps in Kandahar, Helmand and Herat provinces respectively, aid agencies and Afghan officials estimate. ...

“Commanders and warlords in the north are still seizing people’s land and forcing them to abandon their houses; so how can we return?” said Haji Gul Ahmed, a resident of Maslakh camp in Herat Province.

“There is no guarantee that commanders and gunmen [local militias] will not kill us and will not harm our females,” said Abdul Manan, a representative of displaced families from the northern province of Faryab, in Zherai camp in Kandahar Province. ...

The MoRRA and the UNHCR have given assurances that displaced families will not be forced to repatriate to their home areas; returns will be entirely voluntary.

“We do not encourage IDPs to return to areas that we believe are unsafe,” said Nader Farhad, a UNHCR spokesman in Kabul.

However, the UNHCR will not resume its humanitarian relief operations for displaced people who are unwilling to leave the camps.

UN agencies officially halted their relief operations in Maslakh, Mukhtar and Zherai camps in March 2006. ...

Non-governmental organisations and the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) suspended health services in Zhari camp after several health workers were kidnapped by Taliban insurgents in 2007.

“We will not send medical teams to Zhari camp unless locals provide adequate security guarantees,” said Abdullah Fahim, a MoPH spokesman in Kabul, adding that the ministry did not want to put its staff at risk by forcing them to visit patients in Zhari.

Humanitarian relief and health services have been suspended for IDPs at a time when the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has warned that conflict is “spreading” in Afghanistan and civilians are increasingly becoming displaced.

The ICRC has called on aid agencies and the government of Afghanistan to respond to the “growing humanitarian needs” of IDPs “as a matter of urgency”. (link)
Note that UNHCR officials claim they would not encourage IDPs to return home if that would be dangerous. However we recently saw, courtesy of a study by Oxford Refugee Studies Centre, that refugees often feel pressured and deceived by UNHCR officials:
Amnesty International pointed out that ‘[r]eturnees feel deceived by reports, coming from host countries and UNHCR, that they could return to Afghanistan in safety and dignity’. (Link to blog post.)

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